Read Always October Online

Authors: Bruce Coville

Always October (3 page)

Second, on the moon are the hands of a clock. It is five minutes to midnight.

Third, despite her smile, a tear is trickling down her cheek.

Dad used to stare at the painting too. If I came up beside him while he was doing so, he would put his hand on my shoulder and say, “My father used to say there was a long story behind that picture, and the key to the family mystery. When I begged him to explain, he would only say, ‘I'll tell you more on your eleventh birthday.'”

That was all Dad ever said about it. He didn't need to say more. I knew that by the time he had turned eleven, his father was gone.

Like father, like son …

In my room I lined up my pencils by length, then took out the picture I was working on, an attempt to copy the cover of one of my grandfather's books. It was cool: two horrifying monsters wrestling in a swamp while behind them a beautiful woman without many clothes presses herself against a big old tree, screaming.

I love drawing. It's about the only time I can shut out the world and not think about stuff like how many times I have to touch the door before it's safe to open it. I got so lost in the picture, I almost forgot about the trouble with my mother.

Then I smelled the hamburgers.

Mom knows I can't resist hamburgers, so she cooks them whenever she feels she might be even partly in the wrong. It's her way of apologizing without actually having to say “I'm sorry.”

Mom isn't a big talker.

I tried to resist but the smell was too good. Before long I was downstairs, setting the table—my role when Mom cooks apology burgers. Later, as we were clearing the dishes, she said, “I have to work on that tapestry I'm making for the new hotel over in Winchester. Want to join me in the Loom Room while you do your homework?”

Mom's a weaver. She does most of her work on a big loom Dad built for her back when I was a baby. Later he made a much smaller version for me. Mom had been using it to teach me to weave. I liked it; the rhythm was relaxing. I don't use it anymore, though. I stopped when Dad disappeared.

Mom's big weavings hang in art galleries. One is even in a museum. After Dad disappeared, her weavings changed. Some, filled with dark, jagged designs, were downright disturbing. That was why I was glad when she got the hotel commission: it forced her to create a design more like her work used to be.

It had been a long time since she'd had a new commission. Fortunately, she has a part-time job teaching weaving at the community college. Otherwise, we'd really be in trouble.

“Well?” asked Mom, interrupting my thoughts. “Do you want to join me or not?”

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

“All right, get your books.”

Even though I was pretending it was no big deal, I loved being in the Loom Room. It's at the front of the house, in the base of the tower. The racks of yarn make it look as if someone has spilled a rainbow on the wall. Behind the bench where Mom sits is a picture of Penelope, weaving as she waits for Odysseus. To Mom's right is a painting of Arachne, who was turned into a spider for boasting that she could weave better than Athena. Above my own loom, which—with the help of a piece of plywood—I now use as a desk, is a picture of the three fates weaving the destiny of all mankind.

The storm had broken and rain was pounding against the windows. Mom worked on her tapestry. I pretended to work on my math. Everything was very cozy.

Actually, I didn't
plan
to pretend about the math. I really did want to get the work done. But my mind kept wandering, distracted partly by the pleasure of watching my mother's slim, quick fingers manipulate the bright strands of yarn, partly by the howling of the wind. I was trying to force my attention back to my own work when a rumble of thunder shook the house.

As it tapered off, we heard a loud thump from the porch.

Mom looked up. “Go see if the wind blew something over, would you, Jake?”

I sighed, but mostly for effect, stepped into the front parlor, and turned on the light. (With money so tight, we don't leave on lights we aren't using.) Even
with
the light the room was gloomy, since it's covered with dark-brown wallpaper. Every time I saw that paper, I felt a twinge. Dad had always said he was going to take it down someday. Now every time I saw it I wondered if “someday” would ever come—if he was dead, or had simply gone missing like his own father. If so, might he improve on his father and actually come back to us?

At the front door I was touching the knob for the third time when another bolt of lightning split the sky, this one so close I could hear the crackle of the electricity. The thunder followed almost immediately, shaking the house.

I waited for it to fade, then pulled the door open.

A small cry at my feet caused me to look down.

I let out a yelp of surprise.

3
(Lily)

OUT OF THE BLUE

M
ost of what happened that first night went down at Jake's house. Even so, I need to put in something about what I did, since it turned out to be really important.

So … after supper and homework I decided to go back out to the cemetery. I
love
being there when the rain is pounding down and the sky is exploding with lightning.

Grampa was napping on the couch, which made things easy. I slipped on my raincoat and boots, grabbed a big umbrella, and headed for the door. The wind was strong, and I had to be careful not to let it blow the umbrella inside out. I headed for our library. It's incredibly cool to sit inside that mausoleum and read scary stories while a huge storm is shaking the world.

As I got close to the building, someone—someone really big—came running out. I ducked behind the Crawford family tombstone so I wouldn't be spotted, but I was madder than the Phantom of the Opera listening to a bad soprano. Who else would be in the cemetery at this time of night? More important, what was he—I assumed it was a he, because of the size—doing inside our mausoleum?

The books!
I thought suddenly.
Someone is trying to steal our books!

That might sound silly, but even though they were only paperbacks, I knew some of the books Jake had brought were collector's items. I also knew they meant a lot to him. I was so upset at the thought of losing them that it didn't occur to me it was unlikely anyone else even knew they were there.

Once the intruder was out of sight, I ran to the door. It was wide open. Well, that wasn't so strange. The thief probably didn't care about closing up after himself.

What
was
strange was the blue light coming from inside.

Cautiously, I peered around the door frame.

The entire back wall of the mausoleum, the one where Jake and I had heard scratching earlier that day, was glowing.

Irresistible.

I walked toward it.

It wasn't so strong that it hurt my eyes, and I couldn't feel any heat coming from it, so I reached out to touch it. The instant I made contact, the beautiful glow died. Everything went black.

From the other side of the wall came a howl of rage.

I turned and ran.

4
(Jacob)

LITTLE DUMPLING

T
he reason I yelped was that directly at my feet lay a basket woven from coarse black twigs.

Actually, the real reason for the yelp was what was inside the basket: a baby, bundled in a black blanket.

It cried out again, then stared up at me as if it expected me to do something. So I did. Lugging the basket into the house, I bellowed, “Mom, you'd better get out here!”

She shot out of the Loom Room. “What is it, Jake? Is anything—” She stopped in her tracks when she saw the basket. Eyes wide, she came to kneel beside it. “Poor little fellow,” she murmured, stroking the baby's cheek.

“What makes you think it's a boy?”

“Mothers know these things,” she answered, chucking the baby under the chin.

The kid gurgled with delight.

While Mom fussed over the baby, I took a closer look at the basket, which was wet from the storm. That black blanket bothered me. I mean, who wraps a baby in a
black
blanket? Then I spotted a piece of coarse paper tucked next to the baby. I pulled it out and unfolded it. The edges were slightly soggy, but the center was dry and the ink had not run. I'm going to copy it over, so anyone who reads this can see how bizarre it was:

To the Family in This House,

Please take care of my baby. I am in a desperate situation and must leave little Dum Pling behind. Please, please protect him! This is more important than you can imagine.

Thank you.
M.A.          

“Better look at this,” I said, handing the note to my mother, who by this time had picked up the baby and put him over her shoulder.

Outside, the rain continued to hammer at the windows, lightning flashed ever more frequently, and thunder rattled the roof with increasing force.

Mom read the note, wiped away a tear, then handed the paper back to me. Cuddling the baby close, she whispered, “I'm so sorry, sweetie. But your momma brought you to the right place. We'll take good care of you.”

The kid burped, then puked on her shoulder.

Mom sighed. “Get the paper towels, would you, Jake?”

I scooted off to the kitchen, flicking on lights as I went. More important, I made sure to touch all the right spots on the wall.

“How do you know the note came from the baby's mother?” I asked when I came back. “Couldn't it have been the father?”

“Mothers know these things,” she repeated, taking the paper towels.

I rolled my eyes. She had been using that phrase a lot since Dad disappeared.

“So what are we going to do about, um,
it
?” I asked.

“He's not an ‘it,' Jacob, he's a little dumpling, just like the note says. In fact, I think that's what we should call him.” She patted his cheek. “Don't you agree, Little Dumpling?”

“That doesn't answer my question. What are we going to do about, er—Little Dumpling?”

“For now, not a thing.”

“Are you kidding? We have to do
something
!”

“Jacob, nothing we can do tonight can't wait till morning—and there's no point in going out in that storm.”

As if to prove her point, a huge bolt of lightning hissed down from the sky.

Rocking from side to side, she patted the baby's back. “The little darling is in no danger here. And it's possible his mother might change her mind and come back for him. Just look at that note.”

“I know! It must have been written by a crazy person!”

“Jacob! You have no idea what kind of stress this baby's mother might have been under. I don't want him gone if she returns.”

“Why should we give the baby back to someone who left him on our doorstep? She can't love him very much!”

Mom's eyes flashed. “Jacob Doolittle! Have some compassion. We don't know what drove that poor woman—”

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